This really is a bit of a misnomer. It is not so much ‘modern theology’ that I want to mention but the strange phenomenon that it was entwined with… archaeologism.
First, however, a word about the strange series of phenomena which influenced it and which shouldn’t have been good bed fellows but which brought about such disastrous results.
For shorthand I’ll call this ‘functionalism’ – a movement in architecture on the rise in the early twentieth century which tried to reconcile individual artistic endeavour with mass production. Rationality and minimalism triumphed in style. It flourished especially in the Soviet Union and in Germany but its influence was widespread.
Why is this important? Well it played down symbolism and radically broke away from what had happened before. I remember it being described to me in the following terms “a door is just a door”. For Catholics, indeed for all right thinking human beings, a door is never just a door.
For us this should just have meant that we were left with some minimalist, dull ‘modern’ Churches, but the spirit wormed its way into everyday thinking. The ‘new’ became everything – and this was readily understandable to everyone. Clean lines, pure shapes, no hidden meaning
I’ve written about this anti-incarnational theology before (here, here and here) so I won’t go over old ground. But this sense of ‘stripping away’ of things that had been added to get at the central, core, easily understood sense of things was taken to the extreme by the practices following the second Vatican Council, and it must be said had started before.
‘Archaeologism’ – trying to return to a pristine version of what had gone before – had, of course, rightly been condemned by Venerable Pius XII in Mediator Dei. But the two drives – towards the clear and accessible on the one hand and the original and best on the other were other elements at play in the background to the second Vatican Council.
Why did we want to go back to this ideal age? It does not make sense. Things change for a reason and it was not as if the test of time had shown that it had been a bad mistake. Perhaps it was a part of this thinking that if we went back to the early Church then we would spread the faith as they did. To be brutally honest I have no idea what drove them. I assume that the motives were good, but the intentions are beyond me.
Anyway, when this was added to the idea that we should engage with the brave new world to bring about great things, then you can see what a potent mixture there was.
- The modern world was aching for the ‘new things’.
- The ‘new things’ where clean, pure, easily understood, but most of all NEW.
- The new aim was to evangelise the world at all costs, primarily by engaging in the hubris (the proud) belief that we can do it all.
- Nothing could get in the way. Old things could be got rid of and the new thinking showed that the original was best.
And then we had the Council.